Can’t leave you alone for a minute: I go away on vacation and come back to a bunch of new topics.

Chief among these is the recent court decision that forces the district to release the full report on the Mariners Gold Ribbon application. That’s the investigation into the “untruths and inaccuracies” claimed by the teacher union.

The Pilot wrote about it, but the story is not accurate. For example, the Pilot story states that, “An Orange County Superior Court judge this week ordered a private court inspection of a report prepared by a firm that investigated an award controversy involving Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach.”

This is inaccurate. The fact is that the “inspection” is only to determine whether any content needs to be redacted. Other than that, it will be released in its entirety.

For this transparency – this bit of sunshine – you can thank John Caldecott, the district’s former head of human resources, who was fired by e-mail by the superintendent without a hearing after he started sticking his nose into some financial shenanigans.

And I’ll say this again about the investigation and the district’s overall conduct during the Blue Ribbon period: Any responsible and experienced manager would have examined the Mariners Blue Ribbon process and immediately reviewed all other Blue Ribbon applications from other schools to determine whether they, too, contained any “untruths and inaccuracies.”

But there was no such review.

No, I don’t hate to say “I told you so”

Shortly after Caldecott was fired, we met to so I could get the facts of the case. But my other motive for meeting was to determine whether Caldecott was for real, that is, whether he had an axe to grind, or was looking for big money, or something other than simple justice.

I determined then that Caldecott was for real and have since been vindicated. The bad news is that I gave the N-MUSD trustees written notice via this blog that Caldecott was a force to be reckoned with; that the usual approach of wearing people down through delay after delay was not going to work with him.

That was three years ago. Since then, Caldecott has forced the district to become more transparent than at any time in the 31 years I have lived in the area. Caldecott has made multiple public records requests, the district has fought them all, and Caldecott has won every single time.

That’s right – the score is Caldecott whatever, district zero.

You’re an intelligent person and you’re probably asking yourself, “Why? Why would the district keep fighting these public records requests when they have never won?”

There are a couple of reasons. To understand the first reason, it is important to understand the district’s DNA. For decades, they have been successful at faking transparency and whenever they are challenged, they simply drag things out for as long as possible until they die a quiet death. It’s what they have done repeatedly for one reason: It worked.

So you can understand how difficult it is to change decades of behavior. The stall, stifle, and stymie they put on everyone worked so well that there was never any question of doing anything else. That approach became standard operating procedure.

The second reason is that the superintendent – the person who is the lead on all of these fights – has no skin in the game. He’s not spending his own money on legal fees, he is spending YOURS. And these fights against the public records requests are not really to protect the confidentiality of the personnel and blah, blah, blah, because they really don’t care about these people. What they do care about is maintaining the veil of secrecy over just about everything they do.

It is at this point that you should know that after three years, John Caldecott has not profited from the battles he has been waging on our behalf.

When will it end? When will the trustees finally say “Enough!” to the superintendent and order him to stop the tremendous waste of legal fees fighting battles they will not win? This current board will never say that to the superintendent. They can’t. Remember… it’s not in their DNA.

So at the end of the day, the winners are the public, which finally gets to see just how awfully bad the district is being run, and the attorneys on both sides, who make money win or lose.

That’s money, by the way, that could be going to build the new pool at Estancia, to pay teachers more, to put in reserves, or to do a lot of important things.

Thank you, Judge Marks

Thank you, Orange County Superior Court Judge Linda Marks, for your decision. Your decision promotes everything that a growing group of Newport-Mesans have been fighting for. To us, the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility are sacred and it is not often that we see someone who determines an issue with such clarity.

Speaking of investigations… 

In a recent Facebook post, Trustee Vicki Snell wrote something that, well, let’s just say as we used to say, that she “put her foot in it,” if you get my drift.

Snell was responding to a bunch of broadsides from an increasingly disgruntled constituency when she wrote, “[Caldecott’s] case was investigated by a third party and proven to be false.”

Oh, really? There was a third party investigation? Well, that’s news. Big news, in fact. I was not aware of any third party investigation and I sure would like to know who conducted it and when. And please note that this third party investigation – the one that was supposed to get to the bottom of this Caldecott stuff once and for all so we could all finally go to lunch – did not include an interview, verbal or written, with (wait for it)… John Caldecott.

That sound you hear is Caldecott filing another public records request so taxpayers can see for themselves how the fox is running the hen house.

Taking her ball and going home

Not long ago, I reported that Snell’s petty response to my Facebook posts about district mismanagement was to block me from receiving any notice of her posts. You can see how effective that was. (I’ve said many times, “There is a workaround for everything.”)

In another recent post, Snell wrote, “Steve [That’s me! How exciting!] is part of a very small group whose goal is to get Dr. Navarro fired from NMUSD.”

This, readers, is tremendous progress. During my campaign for a school board seat, Snell called me a “lone wolf.” Now, I am part of a “small group.”

As if it matters. (It doesn’t.)

And that firing of the superintendent? Not accurate. I wouldn’t care if the superintendent stood on his head while running the district, or wore his pants inside out, or drove his car in reverse to district headquarters from his home far away in Long Beach. I wouldn’t care about any of that or much of anything else short of proper treatment of the district employees if he operated in a transparent, accountable, and fiscally responsible manner. But taxpayers have seen too many instances of pure mismanagement.

No, we’re not trying to get him fired. With these seven board members, that is like pushing water uphill. Ain’t gonna happen.

No, our sights are on a larger goal: We want new board members. We want people who do not support “special meetings” with little notice, who hold the staff accountable, who want the people’s business to be as transparent as allowed, and who understand that every salary, every staple, and every paperclip in the district was bought and paid for by citizens in the district. (Rumors of a tree with C-notes for leaves in the district headquarters backyard are false.)

The best offense is a good defense.

Or is it the other way around? Snell spent a lot of time on Facebook  in defensive mode, trying to explain to people why there was no Caldecott investigation (though now we know there was – without a Caldecott interview) and why the super got $34,450 of your tax dollars when they are struggling to scrounge up funds for a pool project at Estancia.

She can’t tell these people about progress because there isn’t much these days. In recent posts, I’ve noted the recent pathetic legacy of the once-proud Newport-Mesa Unified School District. Where the district was once defined by academic excellence (even though many Costa Mesa schools were performing poorly) and a sound fiscal house, it is now defined by an incredibly long lists of scandals and miscues, and is even the butt of jokes.

Did you know our district is sometimes referred to as “Capo North?” That was earned by the disproportionate number of personnel who came from the Capistrano Unified School District over the years. The other moniker is “Where administrators go to retire.” That’s a reference to the very generous amounts of tax dollars being thrown at those who are fortunate enough to land a spot in the cabinet.

Snell can’t talk about progress while the aquatics teams at Estancia have no pool in which to swim because someone ordered the pool drained and it’s now costing $100,00 of your money and over 75,000 gallons of your water to fix.

Snell can’t talk about progress when, according to official state Smarter Balanced figures, half of the district’s students failed to meet state math standards in math in 2017. OBTW, at Estancia, a school in Snell’s zone, 83% of the 11th graders failed to meet the 2017 state math standards.

Snell can’t talk about progress while the district ditches a failed math program – one championed by the super – and ignored years of complaints from teachers, parents, and students about just how bad it was. The fallout, that is, the number of kids affected by this failed experiment, is too disturbing to contemplate.

And so much more…

There are four school board seats up for grabs this year. Is it too much to ask to fill them with people who hold the staff accountable, who want to shine a brighter light on district transactions, and who treat every taxpayer dollar with the respect it deserves?

I don’t think so, and neither does this small group.

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD